Legacy of bitter war in Lebanon: thousands of Arab prisoner with nowhere to go; 'I fought the PLO, and the Israelis put me in the same tent with them'
Sidon, Lebanon — Ali Hussein Ghaddar is the prosperous owner of an interior design shop in Sidon. A round-faced man in a neat blue linen safari suit, his hair cropped unnaturally short, he greets visitors in a well-furnished apartment. He is flanked by a chic wife and two multi-lingual daughters.
Mr. Ghaddar is openly hostile to the Palestinian and Lebanese armed groups which for years threatened his prosperity. So he still bristles with indignation that the Israelis, whose war on the PLO is welcomed, mistakenly threw him into detention with ''those dirty people.''
This indignation, verified by the fact that high Israeli officials were dispatched to release Mr. Ghaddar when his plight finally came to their attention, makes him an especially credible witness to the journey of detainees transported to Israel.
Stopped by two Israeli soldiers in Sidon on June 11, he was marched blindfolded, his hands tied tightly behind his back, into a bus with about 40 others.
''When I tried to explain who I was, they forbade me to talk. They would hit you with their rifle butt or with big sticks.''
Taken by bus on a six-hour drive to a ''big Israeli prison,'' the prisoners slept on the ground for one night and were first interrogated the next day.
''I had $5,000 with me - in Lebanon that is nothing - so they accused me of taking money from the PLO,'' Mr. Ghaddar said. Issued a uniform, Mr. Ghaddar slept with 30 others in a tent; they included two Palestinian doctors and a Lebanese dentist. He saw about 20 tents in the prison camp.
On the fourth day he was questioned again. ''An Israeli officer told me to look at a tree where there was a man behind a blanket (an informer). Another officer asked me, 'Why do you have to cooperate with the PLO?' I said, 'Do I look like someone who would do that?' He said, 'You're not helping us.' ''
Returned to his tent, Mr. Ghaddar spent 34 days without further interrogation and was then blindfolded, tied, and transferred by bus to Ansar.
''An Israeli soldier ordered me to put my head down below the iron bar on the bus seat in front of me. If I put my head up, he hit me on the shoulder and back with a stick. They hit one old man, asking him, 'How many wars did you make with us?' ''
At Ansar, Mr. Ghaddar was put in a tent with 23 people, six of them Lebanese, the rest Syrians and Palestinians. Nobody in his tent was questioned. After six days he was released.
Mr. Ghaddar says he bears the Israelis no grudge. But he wishes his treatment had been better.
''Imagine, I fought the PLO, and the Israelis put me in the same tent with them. Some Lebanese think the Israelis are holding them to put pressure on the Lebanese government.''